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UN exhibition to display the unique global saga of Africans

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By Arul Louis

Africans came to India as early as the 13th century as soldiers and there was no prejudice against them at that time. They intermarried with local women, daughters of rulers and notables, and rose to become princes and generals in an era of slavery in America.

Their unique global saga will be on display Wednesday at the UN General Assembly building in an exhibition on Africans in India.

The contrast is striking between Africans taken in chains to the Americas to toil in plantations and those who were brought to India to fight as soldiers — opening the way for their rise through the ranks to eventually becoming free and reaching positions of power.

“It is very different from what we see in the Atlantic world,” said Sylviane A Diouf, the director of the Lapidus Center for the Historical Analysis of Transatlantic Slavery in New York. She is the curator of the exhibition.

“At least, at that time we cannot see any strong prejudice in India,” she said of the African experience. “When we look at the high positions of some of the Africans, whether as rulers, as prime ministers, as generals etc., you can see that although they were foreign, they were black, they were of a different religion that did not prevent them from obtaining high positions.”

“They also intermarried with local women, daughters of rulers and notables,” she added. “There again we can see the absence of prejudice.”

It is also a contrast to contemporary India, where Africans have come under physical and verbal attacks from politicians and thugs.

The exhibition is co-sponsored by the Indian Mission to the UN and the UN’s Department of Public Information in association with the Schomburg Center. Along with Diouf, the exhibition is co-curated by Kenneth X Robbins, an art collector, an expert in the history of Africans in India and co-editor of “Africans Elites in India: Habshi Amarat”.

The exhibition features reproductions of paintings of the remarkable Africans who attained positions of power and influence. They were collected from museums and private collections in India, Europe and the United States, and photographs of the monuments, forts and palaces they built.

The Africans brought to India were from the eastern part of the continent and were known as Habshis or Abyssinians and Sidhis. They went across India, to Bengal in the east to Gujarat in the west and to Delhi in the north to the Deccan in the south over centuries.

One of the first of the notables was a 13th century Abyssinian named Jalal-ud-din Yakut who rose from a job in the royal stable to become the political ally of Sultana Raziya of Delhi as she fought her brother for the throne willed to her by their father, the Turkish ruler Iltutmish. After a four-year rule, Raziya and Yakut were killed in battle.

Another remarkable figure is Malik Ambar, an Abyssinian who was brought to the Deccan and in the 17th century rose to become the regent of the Nizamshahi dynasty of Ahmednagar. His portrait figures in the exhibition.

The portraits in the exhibition include Ikhlas Khan, another Abyssinian who was the regent of the Deccan sultanate of Bijapur in the 16th century.

In Gujarat, the princely state of Sachin founded by African Sufi Sidis held its own into the 20th century when it was incorporated into an independent India. A portrait of the last ruler of the princely state, Sidi Haider Khan, is included in the exhibition.

Diouf ascribes the meteoric slave-to-prince ascendancy to a “fluidity between freedom and enslavement” in the system and their military role. In those times “Muslim armies throughout the world were made of free and enslaved men,” Diouf said. “Africans were good soldiers and so they incorporated them into their armies, whether in India or in the Middle East. Then those soldiers who were enslaved could be generals and still be enslaved and then they would get their freedom.”

Their alien status also worked in their favour. “The rulers put Africans in charge of the administration, the army etc. because they trusted them better than the local people,” Diouf said. “The people who came from overseas had no family and no clan relations to anybody there and so the idea they were more loyal to the rulers than others.”

Under the Portuguese, India also witnessed the brutal type of slavery found in the Americas. The slavery practised by the Portuguese “was more like the Atlantic one,” Diouf said. “So the slaves who were brought by the Portuguese would run away and live in the forest and in the mountains. And others would run away to the Muslim areas because they could become free and could also rise through the ranks.”

(IANS) (pic courtesy: fitchburgartmuseum.org)

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Demons, Drug Dealers and Prostitutes: Do Indians look down on Africans?

Through posters and slogans, African students have expressed their feelings on how the country is mistreating them

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Image Source: bbc
  • Zaharaddeen Muhammed shares his sadness that not once has he been invited to an Indian’s home or has someone visited him
  • when Africans offer money, shopkeepers often check the money to determine whether it is a fake
  • AINSCA has decided to impose fines of Rs 1,000 on people from the community found to be wearing “inappropriate” clothes that includes shorts and singlets

Holding handwritten posters and shouting slogans, the African students have expressed their feelings on how the country has treated them.  Even after adopting the ‘Indian way of life’ and following the social norms, they are unable to fit in the society or to be exact, racism has blinded the people of India.

Zaharaddeen Muhammed, 27, a student of Noida International University said to Al Jazeera, “People often look at me as if I am different, and hard to be trusted,” the tall, softly spoken student explains. “I try to be friendly. I speak Hindi and always laugh. But when I offer biscuits to the neighbors’ children, they don’t accept.”

He said that his failure to interact with Indian people and learn their culture has made him doubt his decision to swap his university in Nigeria for a two-year master’s degree programme in chemistry at Noida International University. The daily derogatory comments, the questions about personal hygiene, the unsolicited touching of his hair and the endless staring don’t hurt him as much as the fact that he can’t interact with the people of the land. Being a big fan of Bollywood, he shares his sadness that not once has he been invited to an Indian’s home or has someone visited him.

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“My landlord is an extremely good person,” Zaharaddeen said to Al Jazeera. He points out that not all Indians have treated him badly and he doesn’t want to generalize. He further adds, “That would be a huge mistake. Because it is Indians often generalizing about all people from Africa that makes us feel unsafe.”

Zaharaddeen Muhammed, a master’s degree student from Nigeria living in India, speaks at the Africa-India Solidarity Forum in New Delhi Image Source: Aletta Andre/Al Jazeera

The attack on the female student from Tanzania earlier this year, in 2016, where she was beaten and stripped in Bangalore by an angry mob, in response to a fatal accident caused by a Sudanese student unknown to her had caused large gatherings and protests. Zaharaddeen shares his concern that it could have been him instead of her who was beaten for no fault.

He feels that some progress had been made after several community meetings with residents from African countries and their Indian neighbors and landlords.

Another student tells Al Jazeera that the people have been rude by showing their distrust and by treating them in an unfair manner. The shopkeepers often check the money to determine whether it is a fake and the landlords eagerly look for faults so that she can be drived out of the home.

Ibrahim Djiji Adam, a 25-year-old business student from Libya says that he has learned Hindi and even “dated an Indian girl”. This is how he says he realized that many Indians are racist among themselves.”We are often seen as demons, drug dealers or prostitutes,” Ibrahim said.

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The All India Nigeria Students and Community Association had decided to impose fines of Rs 1,000 on people from the community found to be wearing “inappropriate” clothes that includes shorts and singlets. They have changed their lifestyle to suit the given circumstances.

The Al Jazeera report also says that, Zaharaddeen does not drink or smoke, and has adjusted his lifestyle. He has classes from 10am to 4pm, eats lunch on campus, usually with other international students, and goes home afterwards with no contact with the outside world.

Though he is happy that so many people care about their welfare, Zaharaddeen says that he would not recommend a good friend from Nigeria to pursue their higher education in India as the purpose of learning another culture is not served.

-This report is compiled by a staff-writer at NewsGram.

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Africans In India adopt ‘The Indian Way of Life’ to protect themselves from Public Violence

Nigerians in Delhi appear to have adopted self-disciplining as the only form of protection from public violence

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Kabeya (right) share details about the protest against locals after four African nationals were attacked in Rajpkhurd village of Chhatarpur, South Delhi . Image Source:The Indian Express (by Cheena Kapoor)
  • Nigerians in Delhi appear to have adopted self-disciplining as the only form of protection from public violence
  • The general attitude of the public towards people from various African countries has shifted from tolerance to assimilation
  • It is unlikely that the Africans who come to India are here by choice

A crammed urban village in South Delhi, Rajpur Khurda, has become the home for about a thousand men and women from African countries. A week after Congolese national, Masonda Ketada Olivier was beaten to death in neighboring Vasant Kunj, four cases of attacks on African nationals were reported from the twin villages of Rajpur Khurd and Maidan Garhi.

In response to these attacks, the members of an association of Nigerians in Delhi discussed ways to “understand and assimilate into what they call ‘the Indian way of life’ so that they can live harmoniously with the locals”. As part of this, the association has decided to impose fines of Rs 1,000 on people from the community found to be wearing “inappropriate” clothes that includes shorts and singlets.

Rights Group Condemns Racist Attacks On Nigerians In India. Image source: informationng.com
Rights Group Condemns Racist Attacks On Nigerians In India. Image source: informationng.com

Nigerians in Delhi appear to have adopted self-disciplining as the only form of protection from public violence. They have even come to an understanding that if they are beaten up by the locals for being Nigerian, Indian law is not likely to favour them. The perception that Indian law, or, rather, its administrators, harbour anti-African sentiments is a damning statement about its impartiality which we hold dear. It appears as if we are administering different rules for Africans and Indians.

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The general attitude of the public towards people from various African countries has shifted from tolerance to assimilation.

We tolerate those who have discarded their cultural identity and tend to be as far away from anything Indian. Yet we criticize and abuse foreigners asking them to be more like us. Hypocrisy is at play here. To prove our cultural superiority, we seek to run the citizens of other countries down to the ground. We tend to discriminate on the basis of nationality, culture, sex and even color. A Nigerian resident of Delhi said to an online news portal, “People need to understand, that I have not chosen my skin color, God has made me what I am.”

Talking about “the lack of English-speaking people in the village”, Mariamo , a Cameroon national points to her pink tights and a fitted tank top, and adds, “People here are extremely racist. Look how I am dressed now, is there a problem? I don’t understand what the men say about me, but I am not a fool, their expression says it all.”

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It is unlikely that the Africans who come to India are here by choice or that if given the choice; they would not prefer to be settled in the West.

Ethnic and religious minorities are frequently left with no choice but to make entirely unreasonable concessions for their safety and survival. Yet, as far as we are concerned, for Africans in India, this appears to be a good enough solution. It is an opinion so frequently expressed – and by so many – that their despair has, unsurprisingly, turned into self-policing.

We need to be accepting and tolerant not because of India’s geo-political interests or how it would affect India’s chances of a seat on the United Nations Security Council but because it is the right thing to do. (source: Scroll.In)

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After 20,000 years, world’s oldest people are facing Crisis of Culture

The San's people can be found across Botswana, Angola Namibia and South Africa. Also, known as Basawara, these people lead a very nomadic life which has not changed for over millennia.

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Image source : CNN

The indigenous people of Botswana (South Africa) are only living link to the ancient Africa, there hunter gatherer ways dates back to 20,000 years. They are known as San. DNA test show that they are direct descendants of first Homo sapiens. But now they sit at a crossroads where their culture, traditions and heritage can be lost forever. People sciences have proved that San’s are likely to be the oldest and continues population of human on the continent and on earth.

The San’s people can be found across Botswana, Angola Namibia and South Africa. They are known Basarwa in Botswana region. Basawara people lead a very nomadic life which has not changed for over millennia.

“If this Culture is not preserved, if this Culture is not passed on from one generation to another it is going to die later on. Culture is something that can die and we should understand that culture is dynamic,” says Bihela Sekere, part of the indigenous population who previously worked at the Botswana High Commission in London.

As a child Bihela and his family lived in Botswana’s Central Kalahari Game Reserve. The national park in the heart of the desert is the second largest game reserve in the world. It was there that his father taught him the ways of the Basarwa. But in 1997 The Government began to remove Basarwa from reserve, to protect the area and integrate their community into the society.

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Now the Basarwa people live in the resettlement village, trying to pass on age-old tradition.

“Some of the kids, Basarwa kids, are taken to schools (and) they can lose their culture because they are taught other ways of living,” explains Sekere. “To start with the language — if they are taught Setswana and English, it means the language will suffer.”

“Culture is Dynamic it changes, as much as you interact with other cultures, more people and more development coming in you stand a chance to lose your culture. Culture is old but it is what lets you know who you are and a nation without its culture is lost nation.”

But San’s people still have hope that they can preserve their culture. A local man Xontae believes that through tourism their culture can be preserved . He guides people around “The mountain of God’s” Tsodilo Hills, which is also UNESCO world heritage site and a national treasure. The mountain contains 4500 rock painting spread across 400 different location which dates back to Stone Age.

Painting on Tsodilo Hills. Image Source: CNN
Painting on Tsodilo Hills. Image Source: CNN

Sekere said “It will be very good for the Tsodilo Hills to be used as a tourist destination. By using the locals the people who grew up here and know the history behind this hills and paintings that will itself make it unique and special for the people from outside world to come and see what the San’s people have.”

Meanwhile Kuru Art project is an initiative which seeks to revive the art making among the Basarwa once more.

“Gradually as time went on hunting and gathering lifestyle changed. With time obviously the land got divided and the people lost movement their rights like before and so the art provided that. Art project became a way through which they wanted people to understand who they were.” Said Ann Gollifer who is a visual artist in the Botswana who been involved in the project.

Kuru Project. Image Source: CNN
Kuru Art Project. Image Source: CNN

She also said that the work the Basarwa create mainly depicts a hunter-gatherer lifestyle of yesteryear. Using modern mediums to paint ancient traditions, these artworks have sold all over the world.

Hence there is still hope there for the Basarwa people, who want to preserve their culture and heritage.

-by Bhaskar Raghavendran

Bhaskar is a graduate in Journalism and mass communication and is a reporter at NewsGram. Twitter handle: bhaskar_ragha

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